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It is the latest killer virus that health officials in Oregon and across the nation are closely watching and bracing for.

The Coronavirus has killed more than 420 people and sicken thousands of others, mainly in China. The virus first emerged in December in China. There have been 11 cases of coronavirus reported in the United States in Illinois, Washington, Arizona, Massachusetts and California, according to health officials.

The News Guard contacted Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority to learn more about this virus and its impact here.

The News Guard: Briefly tell us what is the coronavirus and where did it originate?

Modie: The new coronavirus is a virus that causes mild to severe illness in the lungs. People who are ill with the virus may have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing. We do not know how long it takes for signs of illness to show up after someone is exposed to novel coronavirus. With other coronaviruses, signs of illness usually show up 2-14 days after a person is exposed to the virus.

The first reported case of this virus in the United States was January 21, 2020, in Washington State. The case had recently traveled from Wuhan, China. Cases have been found in other countries, primarily in travelers who had been to Wuhan. Most cases have been in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in China. We expect case counts and fatality rates will continue to change. CDC and WHO, as well as China’s National Health Commission, will offer national and international case numbers.

The News Guard: How does this virus spread and who is at most risk from this virus?

Modie: We are still learning about how this new coronavirus spreads. Other coronaviruses are spread through animals or droplets from the coughs and sneezes of people who have the illness. Early information suggests that older adults and people with underlying health conditions may have a higher risk of severe illness and complications from this virus.

The News Guard: Have there been any suspected or diagnosed cases or deaths from coronavirus in Oregon?

Modie: No.

The News Guard: What is the OHA doing to track this virus?

Modie: OHA has activated an Incident Management Team to coordinate response activities, and it has been meeting regularly every week to gather and report updates on developments in the United States and abroad. OHA also has activated a virtual Joint Information Center to coordinate with county, university, tribal and hospital public information officers.

OHA forwarded at least two CDC Health Alert Network (HAN) advisories to local and tribal health partners, hospitals, infection preventionists and other health partners over the past two weeks to share information on the outbreak, including number of reported cases, where cases originated, symptoms to look for, recommended interventions based on patient scenarios (eg, someone who plans to travel to Wuhan City, China; someone who is returning from there; someone displaying symptoms, etc.), and recommendations for health care facilities for implementing infection control procedures.

OHA also has reached out to its airport partners to let them know we are ready to support if needed, and we updated our website (http://healthoregon.org/coronavirus) to include a novel coronavirus section with latest Oregon information.

Finally, we have conducted social media in English and Chinese to alert travelers to the outbreak and CDC travel guidance.

The News Guard: What is the OHA’s recommendation to help us avoid this virus?

Modie: Risk of getting the disease is related to exposure. At this time, CDC has not seen novel coronavirus spreading in communities in the US. Based on that information, we currently believe that the risk to most Oregonians is low.

That said, until other prevention tools are available, we recommend that people practice everyday precautions to prevent any illness and follow CDC’s travel guidance if they are worried about becoming ill:

- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects.

The News Guard: What is the treatment if someone is infected with this virus?

Treatment for patients with 2019-nCoV is supportive care only.

Modie: There are currently no known diseasespecific treatments.

The News Guard: What is the OHA’s fear or concern about this specific virus?

Modie: Preparing for and responding to infectious disease outbreaks to protect the public is something we do every day at the Oregon Health Authority. The situation is changing quickly, so we will continue to reassess risks to Oregonians and update the public if that assessment changes. When a new disease emerges, there are often many unanswered questions, such as the incubation period and the route of transmission.

While in the early stages as we are now with the novel coronavirus, it is critical to have plans in place for preventing spread, informing health care professionals how to protect themselves and other patients, and protecting the public.

Follow this developing story online at thenewsguard.com and in the Wednesday print editions of The News Guard.

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